Anyone who works in fashion, I am sure, suffers from the same plight, wondering why they couldn’t have been like their friends and neighbors and just went into finance. It’s an industry in which it isn’t easy to “make it,” and “making it,” means more than just a hefty bank account. In an industry like fashion, creativity is paramount, but so is hard work and often, either some strong connections or a stroke of good luck.
So when the Olsen twins took home a CFDA award earlier this year, one has to wonder what facilitated this. While I admit I am a huge fan of the Olsens’ designs and personal styles, being the top womenswear designers of the year is a huge feat. And one can’t help but wonder if the simple privilege of celebrity made much of it possible for them.
It isn’t necessarily that they don’t deserve the award – that isn’t what I am saying. There is obviously some sort of merit to their designs and if you can’t see it, you need glasses. Further proof is the mere fact that you don’t see the Kardashians or Jessica Simpson take home awards. But mere existence of these lines – and continued profit – make you question the integrity of the fashion industry. What more does Jessica Simpson know about shoes than I do, or the Kardashians more about nail polish kolors (sorry, couldn’t help it) than you? Considering this, one can’t help but wonder if celebrity can replace talent altogether, and if will to make money can replace the will to succeed.
As a fashion executive said in an article on Kim Kardashian on NY Mag’s The Cut a few weeks ago, “I think she sees fashion as another means for making money. I don’t think she’s ever going to want to go to a fashion show for her love of clothes. She’s going to want to get paid for going to that show.”
And that isn’t a stretch for people who are used to being part of shows – from Miley Cyrus’ almost true-to-life dual life to Kim Kardashian’s ever-exposing reality TV show. In a recent episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Kanye West has his stylist clean out Kim’s closet, and she comments on how he’s a fashion designer. Never mind the fact that this is the same guy who pleaded after his first show in Paris, “Please be easy, please give me a chance to grow.”
But while some may detest the fashion industry for classism, you also can appreciate that there is some quality control to it. Often unrecognized as an art, which might be why so many celebrities try to waltz into it the same way they do a movie deal, fashion has gatekeepers just like any other creative field. If this is so, then in the face of the next Alexander Wang or Jason Wu, wherever they may be, there is some form of fairness.
This isn’t to say that all celebrities should be barred access from high fashion. Just like fashion students, those who have worked hard and actually spent time and energy designing have been rewarded and accepted. Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen are a prime example of this, and that CFDA award speaks volumes more in their hands than in the hands of anyone else because they have dedicated so much of their careers to designing.
During the Olympics closing ceremony, some of the UK’s most elite models – and Georgia Mae Jagger – walked out onto the stage in gold designs from some of the nation’s most elite fashion houses like Alexander McQueen and Burberry – oh, and Victoria Beckham. I just, of course, as I’m not one to suggest someone is more or less a model a designer, but it wasn’t a joke in fashion forums, where many voice their disapproval of a Victoria Beckham design next to an Alexander McQueen design. Maybe my eyes are just untrained. All the gowns – and all of the models – looked stunning to me. Really, fashion is wearable and often imaginative beauty.
So maybe it’s funny – or maybe it’s not – that the Olsens were handed their coveted CFDA award by actress Jessica Chastain, who was dressed in a sparklywhite dress by Prabal Gurung that evening. There is a place where fame and fashion can collide, but it isn’t without merit.